28 November 2012

Rafting, Monkeys, and Temples: Oh My!

On the second full day of my Bali trip, I split off from the ladies I arrived with to do a little rafting. I signed up for the trip before I left Singapore, so I was a bit nervous and skeptical. (Had I just paid someone sitting at their laptop in their living room who has no intention of taking me rafting?  It was Paypal afterall.)

I woke up, ate breakfast, and waited patiently for my ride.  

A driver and a tour guide arrived promptly at 8am. This is incredible, I thought. I get a tour guide and a driver? In fact, yes:  I got a tour guide and a driver. All for me. Spectacular, indeed. And perhaps a bit weird.  But when in Bali . . .   

We drove for about an hour and half before turning into an elephant camp and driving down a steep and bumpy ride. The tour guide spoke the entire time, telling me all about Bali's history and people and religions. It was fascinating, to say the least. 

Once at the rafting establishment, I was joined by about 14 other people--all with their own drivers--and about 3 rafting guides. I was the only person traveling single, but no one seemed to mind. Everyone was very friendly. Once everyone was huddled around, they gave us each a bottle of water, a life jacket, and a helmet. Then we proceeded to walk down about 500 stairs carved into the side of a hill. (This is actually where I became most concerned, as the rocks were slippery, it was very steep, and I was carrying my paddle, cameras, water bottle, etc.) 

Once we arrived at the base of the stairs, they split us up into about 4 people per raft, with a guide and a back-paddler. The back-paddler addition was something I hadn't experienced in the States. He basically sat at the back of the raft and paddled the rough waters for us, steering us from hitting giant boulders.  

I was in a raft with 2 young guys from Korea. They were super-nice and asked me to be in almost every picture with them. Here we are standing in front of a giant rock formation on the side of a hill. It has been carved with pictures telling of an ancient Balinese story. This was our first stop on our 2 hour rafting trip. Our second stop involved swimming and a cold beer, which was perfect. It almost felt like I was in Gruene, Texas doing a tubing trip.

Here is our guide after he dove off of one of the rocks. He was great! Very friendly and just adventurous enough . . .  

We stopped off at this giant waterfall before our rafting trip came to an end. I couldn't resist standing underneath it! One of my rafting buddies joined me. The top picture shows how far it goes up the side of the rock, while the picture below shows us getting soaked! Our guide kept calling it our free water massage . . . 

After rafting, we climbed up another 500 stoney stairs to a little restaurant on the side of the hill. We were served a full meal, which was included with the trip. My driver and tour guide were there waiting for me. What I thought would just be rafting and the sunset at Tanah Lot turned into so much more.

We drove for another 30 - 45 minutes through some rural areas and busy areas before arriving at our first stop. Below is a video of how popular scooters and motorcycles are in Bali. "They are like ants", said my tour guide. They go in and out of traffic so quickly! It's really something to marvel at . . . 

The first temple we arrived at is one of the larger temples just outside of Ubud. It is a walled off sacred space for praying. Respectfully, shoulders and legs must be covered at all times. Since I had just come from rafting, I had to wear a sari around my waist. And, we were not allowed to go inside the space, only look from the outside. There are walkways all the way around the space, so it was easy to see inside. 

The space was absolutely gorgeous. And, jackfruit and mango trees were everywhere. There was also an unusual amount of cats. They were inside the sacred space and out; enjoying their nap times in the heat, I guess.

Our next spot was a coffee tasting and herbal farm. It was run by a local family. They showed us how they roasted the beans and then we sat down for a tasting.

Seven coffees and teas were placed in front of me. Everything from ginger coffee to a very prickly lemon tea. The flavors were out-of-this-world. I ended up buying a few small packs to take home. The ginger coffee was amazing! I also learned the story of the Kopi Luwak coffee. I'll let you read about it here, but in short it's the most expensive coffee in the world. And it's made from animal feces. Needless to say, I was not given the Kopi Luwak to taste. But, hooray for learning new things!

We arrived at the monkey forest freshly caffeinated and ready. I was told to be prepared for anything, as sometimes the monkeys will just jump on you and start picking through hair. They are also quite fond of cell phones and cameras. But they seemed pretty chilled out while I was there. 

They were fascinating to watch. I couldn't stop staring at them and I felt bad for doing it. They were not being held captive, like at a zoo. They lived here, this was their home. And, I just kind of walked into their space.

Apparently 3 large families of monkeys live in this area. And, they can not be in the same place at the same time or fights break out. So, while one family was eating, another family let out a huge scream. So the family that was eating ran away--like a heard of cats--and the other family appeared to begin eating. It was such an interesting way of living. They had societal rules and regulations down, it seemed. I could've stayed there all day and watched them.

These two little elementary-aged monkeys played in this sand pile for at least 30 minutes. They would jump to the top, pick at each other, then slide down, one-by-one. Then they would scamper back up to the top again for another go at it. It was so precious to watch.

This big old guy was eating a coconut in the parking lot. He found it, popped it open, and went to town.

On our way to our final destination, we passed through several beautiful rice farms. I couldn't stop taking pictures from the van window. 

Everywhere we went, we would pass ladies (and sometimes men) with baskets on their heads, preparing for praying ceremonies. I asked about how frequently the ceremonies were, and I was told daily to monthly. Like any religion, it depends on each individual. I really enjoyed learning about Hinduism. The colors, dances, and hand-crafted items used for their praying ceremonies were very similar to things that I associate with, enjoy, and make. 

This lovely woman was showing me the peppers she just picked. 

We arrived at Tanah Lot around 430pm. It was a beautiful place, but unbelievably crowded with tourists.  We were all there for the sunset. But because it was cloudy, the pink, orange, and red sunset was not going to happen. I watched the water for a little while and took note of how many families I saw taking pictures. They appeared to be from so many different parts of Asia, the world. I enjoyed watching everyone posing with their loved ones. 

I was intrigued with how many offerings were being left. They were everywhere in Bali:  temples, water, tied to trees, etc. You'll notice that I posted an image of offerings on the rocks where I started my rafting trip. I thought it was fitting to begin and end this post with offerings. I am so thankful for what I have been able to experience. To many more adventures . . .  

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